on consumerism and insecurity

[This is an excerpt from a look at the Ladakh people of northern Himalayan India whose recent “development” has led to the loss of much of their traditionally rich way of life.]

Perhaps the most tragic of all the vicious circles I have observed in Ladakh is the way in which individual insecurity contributes to a weakening of family and community ties, which in turn further shakes individual self-esteem. Consumerism plays a central role in this whole process, since emotional insecurity contributes to a hunger for material status symbols. The need for recognition and acceptance fuels the drive to acquire possessions – possessions that will make you somebody. Ultimately this is a far more important motivation that fascination for the things themselves. It is heart-breaking to see people buying things to be admired, respected, and ultimately loved, when in fact it almost inevitably has the opposite effect. The individual with the new shiny car is set apart, and this furthers the need to be accepted. A cycle is set in motion in which people become more and more divided from themselves and from one another.

– Helena Norberg-Hodge, in Ancient Futures: Lessons from the Ladakh for a Globalizing World (2009).

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